Are you wondering why we post frequently about about meatless meals, since we raise and process our own livestock? Does it seem contradictory to eat animals we raise and also eat vegetarian (or vegan) food? It’s really not…and it’s part of a healthy flexitarian diet.
Efficiency and sustainability are primary drivers for why we raise animals on our homestead. Omnivorous animals, like ducks, chickens, and guinea fowl, will eat our food scraps (like fermented fruit from water kefir or kombucha second ferments or past-its-prime squash) in addition to foraging for bugs and greens; herbivorous animals like rabbits and geese will take advantage of the nutrition offered by the grass and vegetation (dandelions, clover, timothy, etc.) growing in the pastures. By eating by-products or wild-growing vegetation, these animals reduce feeding costs (less supplemental feed is needed), grow healthy on a diet that more closely resembles what they would naturally eat, and produce more nutritious food (eggs and meat) for us.
Small animals like poultry and rabbits are extremely efficient in converting food to meat – far more efficient than cattle or even sheep. Waste is easier to manage, too, when raising on a small scale. With less environmental impact and overall cost (including housing), raising small animals is a pragmatic choice for a homestead. Plus, fertile eggs can be hatched and rabbits will breed prolifically, so it truly is a sustainable scenario.
We decided years ago that we wouldn’t take part in the eating of cruelty meat, which we define as meat that’s been raised in the inhumane conditions of factory farms, like Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), confinement operations, or battery cages. What that means for us is that we don’t eat meat unless we know that it’s ethically produced; basically, we don’t eat meat from restaurants and we usually can’t buy it at grocery stores. There are a couple of exceptions, where we know that the meat is sourced from farms that raise their meat animals ethically, but these restaurants aren’t near us so we generally only eat there on rare occasions.
Honoring these values means that we’ve had to plan ahead to bring our own food on trips (including cross-country moves), skip meals, and refuse well-intentioned food offerings that didn’t fit our criteria. Unsurprisingly, there are social costs to refusing to eat cruelty meat, too: it may seem rude to refuse food being offered, even if it’s done as politely as possible, and if I do tell someone why I won’t eat something that contains industrially-produced meat, they bristle at the implication that they’re supporting factory farming and, by extension, cruelty. I get it…but it is a choice.
We’re happy to explain, should someone actually care about why we eat the way that we do, that we’re not vegetarians. We’re reasonable people who expect that, if meal offerings are cruelty-meat based, there will also be alternatives, like beans, tofu, nuts, or some of the many readily-available (and tasty) meat analogs. A green salad without some kind of protein we can eat isn’t a suitable meal: without protein, fat, and sufficient fiber, we won’t feel satisfied and will be hungry again in short order. And I’m cranky when I’m hungry…especially because it’s not really that difficult to ensure that healthy vegetarian meal options are available for those who need them.
Strict vegans will undoubtedly be dissatisfied with our position on eating meat. I can live with their disapproval because I am ethically comfortable with my choices: I don’t pretend to not know about the battery cage hens suffering in cramped and dirty conditions, or about the cruelties perpetrated against factory farmed hogs, or about cattle standing knee deep in manure in CAFO feedlots. That’s why I forgo that burger or bacon at pretty much any nearby restaurant, and why I don’t buy those giant “family” packs of meat at warehouse stores. And why I try meat alternatives and post about them – so people who care about animal welfare, the environment, and their own health can make informed decisions…and maybe discover a meat alternative that they enjoy.
I’m not going to try to guilt people into eating less meat. My hope is that fellow thinking people will consider the reasons why it makes sense to eat less meat, to ensure that the meat they do eat is sustainably sourced (and not from factory farms), and to explore meatless options with an open mind. But I’m also not going to sugarcoat it: cruelty meat exists and it’s bad for animals as well as being bad for people – and it exists solely because of greed and willful ignorance. I choose to vote with my wallet and refuse to support that kind of industry because it’s unnecessary, harmful, and it has created artificially low prices for a product that’s expensive and resource-intensive (harming farmers who choose to raise meat in a manner that respects the animals’ natural behavior and diet). It’s a vicious cycle, and it won’t stop until people refuse cruelty meat.
Read more about why reducing meat consumption (ruminant meat, especially) is important at the World Resources Institute.